The Florida Project: The Emphasis of Emotion Through Cinematic Techniques

Liana A
4 min readDec 17, 2020

The Florida Project 1:46:08

Sean Baker’s The Florida Project shows us the story of the unsteady and realistic lives of teen mother Haille and daughter Moonee while living in a motel a highway away from Orlando’s Disney World. In the film, we see the day to day life of the pair while they struggle to survive with what little they have. In the ending scene of Sean Bakers The Florida Project we see Moonee realize the seriousness of her situation, Baker plays out this emotional scene by the use of camera work, musical score, and lighting.

At the beginning of the scene, we see Moonee running away from the social worker and heading towards her best friend Jancey’s motel across the way. When she arrives at the motel the camera angle makes an abrupt switch to the back. The camera has panned back while facing Moonee’s backside. While in an anxiety-ridden state she beings to pound at the bright blue door awaiting Janceys arrival. In the panned outshot, we can see the outfit Moonee is wearing, which consists of an all-blue ensemble that was laid against the dark blue door.

In this specific scene alone we see a total of four different shades of blue. The use of the color blue in this specific scene correlates with the current emotional state Moonee is in. At the moment she is feeling a plethora of emotions, but all of which are derived from one emotion, sadness. This goes the same for the blue, Baker strategically places the different shades of blue to reflect the sadness Moonee is processing. To add to the intensity of the scene, Baker also has the camera slowly and steadily zooming in on Moonee’s backside, while she is pounding on the door. The decision to have the camera zooming during this scene helped add to the tension and anticipation. Something else that added to the anticipation of the scene is the body language that Brooklyn Prince who plays Moonee portrayed. The way that she fidgeted with her hands and panted in front of the door all added to the anticipation.

Once Janey answers the door, we see Moonee express emotion about her situation in the movie for the first time. Once she begins to cry the quality of the movie suddenly switches. This is when Baker switch his 35mm for an iPhone 6s. This is something that Baker has done before, When filming his 2015 movie Tangerine, he made the executive decision to film the entirety of the movie on an iPhone 5s.

In an interview that Baker had done with The Hollywood Reporter, he states “We could have shot it on a 5s and made it more smooth, but we actually wanted the audience to know that we were jumping from 35mm to another medium.” The sudden switch of quality is something that Baker intended for the audience to notice. All of a sudden Jancey grabs Moonee’s hand begins to run, pulling Moonee behind her. At this point, Moonee’s tears have all gone, and the sadness of the moment has dissolved. The music then changes to an upbeat tension-ridden orchestra while the two girls run across the highway making their way to the Magic Kingdom. The way that this scene was filmed on the iPhone gave off a very raw feeling, imperfect almost. The editing also mirrored this feeling, the last three minutes of the film are filled with raw and rough jump cuts of the girls running.

The reasoning behind him bringing back the iPhone in this film was solely to be able to film the last sequence inside Disney’s Magical Kingdom. This scene truly captures the spirit of being a child, which is something that we do not see much of from Moonee in the film. Having the ending scene of the film in Disney World gives the audience the illusion of a happy ending, an ending that this movie doesn’t necessarily have. To Moonee or any child, Disney is a happy ending. She lives her everyday life faced with hard reality, realities a child of her age should not have experienced, but the ending of the film allows her to have peace.

She is always put in hard reality situations, they are always coming to her but in the end with her running into Disney, she is going into her own fantasy land. ‘If you want a happy ending, you’re gonna have to go to that headspace of a kid because, here, that’s the only way to achieve it.” This is something Baker had said during his interview with the Hollywood Reporter. It gives you a sense of closure when thinking about it in correlation to the ending. Meaning that when looking at the situation that Moonee is in from an adult standpoint, there is no way to see a happy ending scenario. But when looking from a children’s perspective all it takes is one little change to switch the entire feeling about the situation, and in this scenario, it was something just as simple as Disneyland.

*excerpts taken from my previous 2018 Florida Project movie review*